Bitter battle ahead in Telengana

After the State of Hyderabad was forced to merge with India on September 17, 1948, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru also restructured the dominions of the Nizam. In a couple of years, Hyderabad was merged with the Telugu speaking area of Andhra, that had been earlier a part of the Madras Presidency under the British, to create Andhra Pradesh. It was the first linguistic State in India. The Marathi and Kannada speaking dominions of the Nizam’s State were hived off and merged with Maharashtra and Karnataka (which were then called the Bombay State and Mysore State). This left the Muslims. The well-to-do and the enterprising migrated to Canada, UK and Pakistan leaving their poorer brethren back home. They stayed back – mostly in Hyderabad city where their population at that time was no less than 50 per cent. Telugu became the lingua franca in Hyderabad but they managed with Urdu, helped by the fact that during the Nizam’s time many Hindus from what is now UP and Gujarat had also migrated to Hyderabad. They also knew no Telugu: so Urdu/ Hindi became another widely spoken language in Hyderabad. Even as dosas and idlis were introduced for the first time, the population also took to biryanis and other Hyderabadi specialties with gusto. Life continued with no hassles.

But Nehru had made a mistake: he had merged two Telugu speaking areas but had not accounted for the fact that language did not make up for cultural homogeneity. Sometimes people speaking the same language are very different from each other. This was the case in Andhra Pradesh where people from the Andhra areas very openly looked down upon by folks from the erstwhile Hyderabad State (or Telangana region). This had to do with the fact that English (those days taken as an indicator of education) was widely spoken by those hailing from Andhra region while most of the people from Telangana spoke Urdu but knew no English. This is not surprising because Urdu was the language of administration under the Nizam and even the Hyderabad-based Osmania University taught in Urdu.  Things became so bad that a movement for a separate Telangana State began in 1969 and became very intense. Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister managed the situation with great difficulty and defused the movement and made a Telangana leader Narasimha Rao (later to be Prime Minister) chief minister in what was a compromise.

Things remained under control for many decades as the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) under cine star N T Rama Rao and later his son-in-law Chandrababu Naidu occupied centre stage. Under them the Telugufication of Andhra Pradesh intensified and in a real sense Hyderabad became a Telugu city.

In 1999 prompted by his own woes, K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) then part of the Naidu raj resigned from TDP and formed the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS). The party had a single point agenda: demand for a separate State of Telangana. It tied up with the Congress party in 2004 and after the death of then chief minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy (who besides being a strong leader was also greatly opposed to the creation of a Telangana State), the separate Telangana movement intensified. As KCR seemed much stronger and scared by a fast he undertook, union minister P Chidambaram announced on December 9 2009 (Sonia Gandhi’s birthday) that a separate Telangana State would be created.  But soon it was clear to the Congress high command that KCR had taken them for a ride; moreover, there was great opposition from the Andhra region leaders. Thus, within a fortnight, the union government reneged on its plans.

This was a signal to KCR and his associates to return to the path of agitation. In fact, the agitation intensified and assumed gargantuan proportions. Before the 2014 general elections, UPA chief Sonia Gandhi announced that she was granting Telangana. This step was a reversal of the decision taken by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. In the 2014 elections, KCR swept the field, winning most of the seats in Telangana. The Congress which had been very strong in the Andhra region got wiped out there as people took the move to dismantle an integrated Andhra Pradesh as an act of betrayal. KCR won the elections.

Once in power, K Chandrasekhar Rao became like a neo-Nizam, rebuilt the chief minister’s residence like a palace and has now demolished the secretariat to make way for a grand building overlooking the waters of the Hussainsagar Lake. He seldom goes to office and lives in his farm house. Not many have access to him and this includes many ministers and senior officers of the government. The government is now running on remote, one that is operated by his young son K T Taraka Rama Rao (who is however seen as a smart leader). The KCR government has made many promises to the poor – these include two bed-roomed houses – that have not been implemented.

Seeing that KCR has been growing weaker, the BJP decided to re-enter Telangana and challenge the TRS. This would be their major foray into South India. Also, on target is the Majlis- Ittehadul- Muslimeen (MIM) which represents the Muslims in Hyderabad. Targeting the MIM also was born out of the desire to neutralise MIM’s boss Asaduddin Owaisi, the energetic barrister who studied in London but now wants to contest elections in West Bengal. His foray in the recently held election in Bihar where he won a few seats, and earlier in Maharashtra, are seen as his strength in garnering votes.

The next assembly polls in Telangana will be fought in 2023. But fresh after its good performance in the municipal polls in Hyderabad – where it won 48 seats up from the previous 4, the BJP is buoyant. TRS won 55 seats down from 99 seats the last time.  Though Hyderabad is just one city in a State and this is only a civic election, the BJP sees this as an indicator of things to come. BJP leaders say they will change the name of Hyderabad to Bhagyanagar. This is scaring the Muslim population, although Ahmedabad – where the BJP has been in power since 1995 – has not been renamed Karnavati. Name changes have been a recurring demand and very much on the BJP agenda. Here in this Southern State, it is a new beginning. And from now onwards to 2023 it will be bitter battle on a new warfront called Telangana.

(The writer is a senior journalist and author based in Hyderabad) (Syndicate: The Billion Press)